Sunday, June 22, 2014

Corpus Christi - 1882

Benediction at St. Patrick's, 1920s
Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi.  Few today know the Latin meaning- the Body of Christ.  Even fewer recall the days of processions around the church with “stations” set up for Benediction.  Before Vatican II, the Feast of Corpus Christi was considered a major day of observance and was looked forward to with much anticipation.  Every year until the 1950s, the Sisters of Notre Dame recorded the day’s events in the journal they kept.  The following are excerpts from the journal:
June, 1882-  We had our annual procession which this year was more magnificent than ever.  Over one hundred fifty cadets trained by the Xaverian Brothers and dressed in Our Lady’s colors, white and blue, lent a new charm to the scene.  Thousands of voices blended in one grand harmony chanting the strain of Pange Lingua as the procession wound in and out of the garden walks.  As the procession passed through the street the band played some religious airs and as soon as our Dear Lord once more entered the church the organ pealed forth its grandest strains of welcome.  Here Benediction was given a third time, the entire congregation singing the Tantum Ergo and when all was over the Te Deum was chanted by the thousands (reported to be 10,000) present.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Mr. Manning's Corn Cakes & an Acre Memory

Manning Advertisement
A small parade of men and boys made their way down Broadway Street in Lowell’s Acre neighborhood on an October evening of 1868.  It was just before the big presidential election of that year.  The marchers carried torches and sang political songs supporting their candidate, Ulysses S Grant.  It was a heated contest that year, and boys were stationed along the parade route to keep an eye on any “missiles” that might be thrown at the marchers.  When they approached the corner of School and Broadway the group came to a halt to unfurl a flag as the crowd joined in singing The Star Spangled Banner. Speeches were made and the flag was suspended between William Manning’s shop and the opposite street corner.
Mr. Manning had just opened the shop a few months before.  He probably didn’t realize that Manning’s Silver Corn Cakes would become a national sensation and last for decades.  Manning, a relative of the well known Manning family of the Manning Manse in Billerica, had experimented with different types of popping corn and received a patent from the US Patent Office after perfecting a popping machine.  He purchased an acre of land on Broadway Street and built his empire. 
The basement contained the popping room, which used 5000 bushels of corn and 100 hogsheads of molasses a year.  Four large kettles were kept busy on the bottom floor and 12 more on the first floor to make corn cakes.  Horse power was used to grind the corn.  Large cutting knives were used to cut the cakes.  Later, Manning diversified into making corn balls and a variety of other products..  His cakes sold two for a penny. 
The business quickly prospered with 6 buildings taking up the corner.  Stables for the horses and storage sheds were added to fill the demand for corncakes.  The fame of Manning’s Silver Corn Cakes quickly spread from the Acre, across the city, state, and eventually the country.  Mr. Manning was nearly 90 when a broken hip led to his demise and death in 1923.  The business was sold and the land transferred over to a roofing company.  And all of this started in a corner shop in the Acre.
As soon as I saw the advertisement for Manning’s Silver Corn Cakes,  I was taken with his story. I had to find out more about him and his Acre connection.  I think few in my age group would forget buying corn cakes and old-fashioneds.  I’m not sure if it’s just a Lowell, or New England thing.  Finding corncakes today is a rarity.  Most are poor imitations of the original.  I recently found such an example at a local “candy house.”  It was a quarter size of the original and about $3 or $4.  The worst travesty was that it was not a real corn cake or an real old-fashioned.  As a kid I might get mine from the BC on Merrimack Street or more likely at Ovie’s on Broadway.  There was an unwritten rule that one did not buy them in mid-summer. The corn cake would be too sticky and the old-fashioned would melt too easily.  If memory serves, the pair cost a nickel.  I doubt anything will ever equal the memory of sitting on the stoop, taking out the corn cake from the brown paper bag; smelling the caramel, feeling the sticky sweetness, and finally squashing the vanilla crème drop onto the corn cake.  Ahh, youth!

What's your corn cake memory?

Friday, June 6, 2014



Fr. Theobald Mathew giving
"the pledge."
Alcohol, and the availability and abuse of it, were a constant problem in nineteenth century Lowell.
In any given year, alcohol related offenses led the list of arrests and cases heard before the Lowell Police Court.  This was, unfortunately, also a major problem within the Irish community.  There were many 'rum cellars'  - mostly unlicensed - all along Lowell street. All too sadly the epithet “drunken Irishman” had some foundation in fact.  In 1840, Father Theobald Matthew, a priest in Ireland, was preaching total abstinence from alcohol and many thousands were “taking the pledge” to stop drinking – or to never start.  In Lowell, Father James T. McDermott, pastor of St. Patrick's Church, urged his congregation to take the pledge. After one Sunday sermon, it was reported that 501 parishioners had done so.   On a subsequent Sunday, another 500 also pledged total abstinence.  At the same time the 'Cold Water Army' was active, urging abstinence on the part of all, Catholic and Protestant alike.  In a letter printed in the ADVERTISER on 19 June, a writer commented that, “From present indications, our Protestant population will be outdone in the great work of temperance, by their Catholic brethren”.  Visitors to Lowell street on a Saturday commented that “...not a drunkard was seen.”
A positive step taken as a result of Fr. McDermott's effort occurred at a Merrimack street business.  A letter appearing in the COURIER of June 20, related that “A gentleman has just informed us that as he was passing a store on Merrimack street yesterday, his attention was attracted by some ten or a dozen men, who were all busily engaged in removing casks from a store where “the ardent” has formerly freely been dealt out.  On inquiring, he learned that the owner, although a licensed retailer, had voluntarily surrendered his license, and was removing all his liquor casks of all description from his store.  That owner was Hugh Cummiskey, a trader will known and possessing great influence in Lowell.  We cannot heap too much praise upon him for this act”.

This short recitation of the 1840 temperance movement was prompted by the discovery, in the ADVERTISER of June1,  of the following “gem.”

June 1, 1840 – William Congden was brought up, charged with being a drunkard.  It appeared in evidence that said Congden was decidedly drunk in the Catholic Church, and behaved very improperly during divine service.  His Honor regarded it as an offense of rather an aggravated character, and fined him $5.00 and costs. [note: about $10.00 total or almost two weeks pay]  He evidently got into the “wrong pew.”

One wonders,  Could it have been the 'sacramental wine'?
Submitted by Walter Hickey